Key Takeaways

    • If symptoms and disturbances related to the traumatic event persist beyond the initial weeks or months, it may be time to seek the support of a mental health professional.  
    • Seeking professional help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it can be an empowering step towards healing.
    • Some psychotherapies have been shown to be highly effective treatments for trauma.
    • For those who find comfort and strength in their faith, seeking support from a trained faith-based counselor may complement other practices.
    • Consulting your family doctor may help you find a beneficial care path, which sometimes includes medications to help with anxiety, depression, sleep, or thoughts of self-harm.
Why am I still struggling? Do I need more help?

Acting to save someone’s life as a first responder can have a lasting impact that can affect your mental health and overall well-being. If you continue to struggle or feel stuck after a month since the incident, it may be time to seek the support of a mental health professional.

How do I determine if I need professional help?

Throughout your recovery since the event, it’s important to regularly check in with yourself to assess how you are feeling and functioning in day-to-day life. Basic self-care techniques can help. But you may come to a point where self-care measures alone may not be sufficient. 

If there are lingering, persistent feelings of guilt, negativity, sadness, depression, shame, self-doubt, or ongoing disturbances related to the traumatic event, a professional could help. 

It is common for people who experience traumatic events to seek professional help for guidance and a safe space to work through the aftermath. It’s not a sign of failure or weakness. Instead, seeking the support you need to regain emotional well-being can be an empowering step toward healing and inspiring others

Professional care strategies

The role of a mental health professional is to guide you in gaining a deeper understanding of yourself and to equip you with skills and strategies tailored to your needs, personality, learning style, and goals. 

Looking for a certified trauma specialist is recommended, as trauma therapy is a distinct specialization within the field of mental health. But how do you find the right therapist? Here are a few ways that may help: 

    • Your primary care doctor can provide a referral.
    • You can reach out to a nearby counseling center.
    • Your employer may offer a confidential employee assistance program (EAP).
    • Your health insurance may cover a program. 

It’s important to find a therapist you feel comfortable with and trust.

Professional therapy approaches

Professionals may use some of the therapeutic approaches below, which have been effective in treating trauma:

    • Cognitive behavioral therapy: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps individuals develop skills and strategies to address the challenges that arise in daily life. With an emphasis on how an individual perceives and interprets their experiences, the therapist and individual work together to identify, question, and challenge unhelpful thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs. This technique helps individuals reduce emotional distress by teaching them to identify distortions in their thinking, view thoughts as ideas rather than absolute facts, and adopt alternative perspectives to gain a more balanced understanding of situations. CBT provides individuals with practical tools to modify their thinking patterns, leading to improved emotional well-being and better coping strategies. CBT typically involves 6 to 20 sessions.
    • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy: Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is an interactive psychotherapy technique used to alleviate psychological stress, particularly in the context of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. During EMDR therapy, the individual is guided by the therapist to briefly revisit traumatic experiences while their eye movements are directed. The technique of diverting attention helps to reduce the emotional intensity associated with distressing memories. Repeated use of EMDR therapy over time helps individuals process and integrate traumatic experiences in a way that lessens their overall psychological impact.
    • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy is a fundamental part of both CBT and EMDR therapy. It aims to alleviate the physical and emotional distress experienced when confronted with specific triggers such as objects, situations, or distressing thoughts or memories. This approach involves gradually exposing individuals to these triggers in a controlled environment, allowing them to confront and learn to cope with their distressing feelings. During exposure therapy, the therapist guides and supports individuals as they remember or visualize the trigger. The therapist helps individuals navigate the physical and emotional distress that may arise and aids them in confronting and coping with their fears. Over time, this gradual exposure can reduce symptoms as individuals learn to manage the distress associated with triggers.
Faith leader or clergy

After a traumatic event, some may find faith-based support helpful. Many places of worship have leaders who are trained to provide support. Faith-based counselors believe that incorporating faith, spirituality, and theology into the therapeutic approach can contribute to healing and personal growth.

Trained faith-based counselors may use prayer, religious study, and community to guide individuals toward transcendence, transformation, and a deeper connection to others, while providing solace, hope, and a sense of purpose.

Faith-based counseling may not be for everyone. For those who find  comfort and strength in their faith, seeking support from a trained faith-based counselor can complement other practices.

Physician support and medication

After a traumatic event, consulting your family doctor may help you find a beneficial care path. Sometimes, medication may be prescribed to help manage anxiety, depression, sleep difficulties, or thoughts of self-harm. 

Before starting any medication, your doctor will consider your medical history, symptoms, and current medications you take. Medical monitoring is essential to ensure a medication’s effectiveness and to address any side effects. Honest communication with your doctor will help you make informed decisions about medication use to support your healing.

Thank you to our contributors

Paul Snobelen

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